Kenyon College

Timeline of Political and Cultural Events for Zapatista


Zapatista: Imagery of the Peasant Revolutionary has a long-reaching historical arc, exhibiting material created from as far back as the Mexican Revolution to present day.

This timeline brings together events of both political and cultural importance, histories which have often remain separated.

Political events are denoted in black, while cultural events are shown in red.

– by Jess Alperin ’18 and Roberto Vásquez ‘19

1910 — Start of the 10-year Mexican Revolution, provoked by unrest among peasants and urban workers. President Porfirio Díaz had been in power for over 30 years, instating policies that concentrated wealth solely among elite members of Mexican society.

1911 — Emiliano Zapata leads the peasant revolt in Southern Mexico. Zapata drafted the “Plan of Ayala,” which called for the redistribution of land among indigenous populations. The revolutionary proposition never fully came to fruition. The struggle for land reform continues to this day and is the primary goal of the Zapatista movement.

1919 — Assassination of Emiliano Zapata.

1920-1924 — The new constitutional government, under Álvaro Obregón’s presidency, focuses on the redistribution of land from foreign and wealthy Mexican owners (hacendados) to peasant and indigenous populations. They do so in the form of communal holdings (ejidos), as outlined in Article 27 of the Mexican Constitution of 1917. Progress is slow.

1921 — Minister of Education, José Vasconcelos, initiates the mural movement in the immediate aftermath of the combat phase of the Mexican Revolution. He commissions Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros (“The Big Three”) to decorate the walls of public buildings, thus launching what would come to be known as the Mexican Mural Renaissance. Vasconcelos intended that these murals would glorify the Mexican Revolution by redefining the Mexican people through their indigenous and folkloric past. However, the political motivations of the artists diverged from Vasconcelos’s original agenda.

1926-1929 — La Cristiada (The Cristero War, or the War for Christ), rages violently for three years throughout many states in central Mexico. Peasants fighting the anti-Catholic policies of the Mexican government under President Plutarco Elías Calles use guerrilla tactics against federal forces, similar to those used by revolutionaries fighting under Zapata during the Mexican Revolution. U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, Dwight W. Morrow, brokers a peace agreement in 1929 that restores limited rights to the Catholic Church.

1930 — Manuel Álvarez Bravo becomes a freelance photographer and head of the magazine Mexican Folkways, documenting the works of Mexican muralists.

1930 — Rivera paints what would become his iconic image of Zapata, the peasant revolutionary hero, as part of his public mural, The Conquest of Cuernavaca, in the Palace of Cortés, Cuernavaca, Mexico, which at that time was the seat of government for the state of Morelos.

1931 — Rivera travels to New York City. The Weyhe Gallery in New York encourages him to make lithographs while in the city working on his 1931 retrospective at The Museum of Modern Art. 

1932 — Paul Strand invited to Mexico by Carlos Chávez, director of Fine Arts Department of the Secretariat of Public Education to photograph Mexico’s landscape and people.

1933 — Álvarez Bravo and Strand meet and work together briefly.

1934 — Mexican President Lázaro Cárdenas (1934-1940) passes the Agrarian Code, distributing more land in the form of ejidos than all of his post-1920 presidential predecessors combined. Agricultural production increases.

1936 — Paul Strand works on Mexican film Redes (The Waves) as a cinematographer. The film was commissioned by the Mexican Government.

1937 — Mexican print collective Taller de Gráfica Popular is founded. The artists are mainly concerned with utilizing art to advance revolutionary and social activism.

1938 — Álvarez Bravo meets French Surrealist artist André Breton, who asks for a photograph for the cover of his Surrealist exhibition in Mexico. He also meets American photographer, Edward Weston, and French photographer, Henri Cartier-Bresson.

1940 — Strand publishes twenty photographs from his time in Mexico, titling it the Mexican Portfolio.

1946Estampas de la revolución Mexicana portfolio is published by the Taller de Gráfica Popular. The portfolio shows the relationship between politics and printmaking through denouncing social injustices.

1955 — Álvarez Bravo is included by Edward Steichen in the Museum of Modern Art’s The Family of Man exhibition.

1946-1952 — Private entrepreneurs gain permission under President Miguel Alemán to rent large tracts of peasant land, disrupting previous reforms made by Cárdenas. This results in neolatinfundismo, in which capitalist entrepreneurs control multiple tracts of land assigned to peasants, creating large-scale agricultural enterprises that violate the maximum legal size of landholdings by an individual.

1950-1970Neolatinfundismo persists, sparking periodic, and often intense conflicts with peasants who denounce the practices of agricultural entrepreneurs, many of whom are Partido Revoluario Institucional (PRI) politicians.

1970-1976 — President Luis Echeverría begins his term by declaring land reform dead, but under pressure from increased peasant uprisings, begins a new series of land reforms comparable in scale to the programs of Cárdenas. Foreign-owned capitalist farms are turned into collective ejidos, and a state credit system is revived to benefit peasant farmers. However, the ejido system must operate alongside, and in competition with, the capitalist system.

1980 — The administration of José López Portillo suppresses land reforms of the 1970s; an average of 20 people per week die in agrarian conflicts during 1980. López Portillo responds by instating programs promoting peasant production of dietary staples, but the Mexican government continues to favor the private sector.

1982-1988 — Neoliberal policies under the administration of Miguel De la Madrid continue to erode state support of peasant agriculture.

1983, Nov 17 — Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (Zapatista Army of National Liberation) is founded by members of former rebel movements in remote regions of eastern Chiapas. Over the next decade, the group grows and develops through an organizational structure created by peasant resistance movements and the Catholic Church.

1988-1994 — President Carlos Salina de Gortari cuts assistance for peasant farmers.

1994, Jan 1 — Mexico, Canada and the U.S. sign the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), creating a trilateral trade bloc in North America. Indigenous groups in rural Mexico oppose the agreement, arguing that the policies threaten their interests in local land and resources by opening their regions to foreign investment.

1994, Jan 1 — The Zapatistas declare war on the Mexican government on behalf of the indigenous people. The insurgents demand democracy for all Mexicans and seize government offices and private land in the state capital of Chiapas.

1994, Feb 21 — Local clergy broker dialogue for peace between EZLN and the federal government.

1994, Oct 11 — The EZLN breaks off peace talks with the federal government because of increased military presence in the state of Chiapas.

1994, Dec 19 — EZLN begins nonviolent protest with the help of the civilian population. Zapatistas announce the formation of 38 autonomous municipalities.

1994The New York Times makes mention of Subcomandante Marcos as the “first postmodern guerilla hero.”

1995 — New peace talks start in San Andrés between the EZLN and the Mexican government, headed under President Ernesto Zedillo.

1995 — The Escuela de Cultura Popular “Martires del 68” (EPCM – 68), a graphic collective aiming to reclaim, conserve, and develop Mexican culture through various media, first works with the EZLN to create posters and prints.

1996 — Signing of the first set of accords and the First Zapatista Intercontinental Meeting for Humanity against Neoliberalism.

1997 — Breakdown of peace and rejection of accords by President Zedillo; 9,000 civilian Zapatistas march, demanding the government honor the accords.

1997, Dec 22 — Paramilitary group murders 45 people (mostly women and children) attending a prayer meeting in Acteal, Chiapas. The prayer group was affiliated with the Zapatistas, a relationship that many believe spurred the massacre, which perhaps involved government complicity.

1999 — During La Consulta on Indigenous Rights and Culture the Zapatistas pressure the government to implement the San Andrés Accords, which is intended to grant autonomy, recognition and rights to Mexican indigenous communities.

2000 — Newly elected President Fox attempts to solve problems. Zapatistas break their silence and call for peace conditions to be met.

2001 — The march of the People of the Colour of the Earth sparks protests for indigenous rights across the country.

2002 — Seven Stories Press publishes Our Word is Our Weapon: Selected Writings, a collection of writings by Subcomandante Marcos, the leader and primary spokesman of the EZLN.

2003, January 1 — Comandante Tacho delivers a speech directed to Mexican politicians and right-wing intellectuals. Parts of his address are widely reproduced in print media.

2012 — 40,000 masked Zapatistas march in Chiapas in what was the largest public manifestation of the organization.

2014, Sept 26 — Forty-three students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers College go missing in Iguala, Guerrero.

2014, Oct 22 — After a large crowd gathers in the Zócalo in Mexico City to confront Mexican heads of state about corruption and impunity in the disappearance of the Ayotzinapa 43, the collective Rexiste paints “Fue el Estado” (It was the State) in the
city square. Activists in Mexico and elsewhere continue the assault, generating the hashtag #FueelEstado as a channel for the world- wide, collective expression of rage and mourning.

2015, Jan — Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office produces a report of the federal investigation of the disappearances, claiming that the students had been detained by municipal police and handed over to members of a criminal group, who killed them and burnt their bodies in a nearby municipal dump.

2015, Sept 6 — An international group of experts appointed by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights publishes a report refuting the Mexican government’s official account of the fate of 43 students. To this day, the case remains unresolved and the students have not been found.

2016, Jul 23-30 — Zapatista CompArte Art Festival for Humanity in Chiapas supported by the EZLN. 1,445 artists attend from 45 different countries across the globe. The aim of the festival was to support social and political movements through artworks.


Image: Fernando Martí (American, b. Ecuador), La autonomía es la vida, date unknown. Screenprint. 19 3/4 x 12 7/8 inches. Cultural ephemera preserved at Interference Archive, Brooklyn, NY.